Autumn 2019 – Robin Simmons, LRPS

Welcome to another instalment of our focus on one of our Society members.

This time we talk to Robin Simmons, LRPS

Hi Robin!

Can you tell us what first got you interested in photography?

I have been interested in photography since my school days, but the first camera I could call my own was an ancient Rolleiflex I bought in a junk shop while I was an undergraduate reading Electronic Engineering at Liverpool University. I had to repair the Compur shutter, which was sticking on the lowest speeds, but it has worked ever since and I still have it. My subsequent PhD work required the use of a high speed rotating-mirror camera, so I learned all about reciprocity failure and how to push effective film speed to what were then dizzy heights, but by today’s digital standards very modest ISO.

By that time I had made a bit of money flogging photos of the university rag day events and managed to afford a second-hand Pentax SV. In addition to university events I did a number of weddings, some portraits (badly) and a few commissions such as photographing the new Catholic Cathedral, known locally as Paddy’s Wigwam or The Mersey Funnel. I actually had Photographer’s Permit No. 2 for that one! I got into developing my own colour transparencies while I was still a student, but when the manufacturers changed the process radically it became too much hassle. I was even offered a very well paid job by a local wedding photographer but decided to stick to something related to the hard won degrees I had obtained at the university.

As so often happens, serious photography took a back seat when the children came along and I didn’t seem to have time for hobbies. My first foray into digital came in 1999 with a high resolution (1.4MP) Olympus C-1400L camera. It took about 30 shots on an 8MB SmartMedia card and gobbled batteries. This was superseded by a Canon S-40 compact, then, the children having grown up and left the nest, an entry level 8MP Canon 350D SLR. At last I had a digital equivalent of my beloved Pentax and could start to get back properly into photography.

What type of photographic equipment do you use?

I have always enjoyed taking beautiful landscapes as I find them very evocative and when I look back over them, I am immediately transported to that time and place. Landscapes don’t move or complain which makes them relatively easy subjects. I also enjoy doing events, although I try to avoid weddings nowadays. Events are the opposite of landscapes – things often move quickly and the reaction of people can be quite mixed.

Latterly I have been trying to branch out into other areas, such as Visual Arts. When an old friend proposed we both joined the RPS in March 2015 I entered a whole new world, which was further broadened by membership of two local clubs. I gained my LRPS in November 2016 with a great deal of help from Mike and Kay Parmee. I am determined to press on with the ARPS, but up to now I have been devoid of practical ideas for the subject. I joined the Digital Imaging and later the Visual Arts special interest groups of the RPS, although at the first meeting of the latter I initially thought this perhaps may not be for me, However, I am now enjoying the challenge inherent in the RPS definition of visual art:
“Visual Art photography” is defined as showing evidence of a personal vision or style which should convey a sense of design, emotion, mood or some meaning which encourages the viewer to look beyond the subject.

Can you identify some photographers that have inspired you?

This is a tricky one. The RPS magazines and some of the speakers at club meetings have given me much to think about and inspire me, as have several of the club members themselves. But I’m a bit like a kid in a sweet shop, I don’t know what to go for next.

I am a rookie at post-processing, so I just gaze in awe at the results from photographers who achieve breathtaking results on the computer. For the time being I have to be content with fairly minimal processing. I have made matters much more difficult for myself because I use Linux and have not been involved with Microsoft Windows for over 15 years. Hence the default options of Photoshop and Lightroom are not available. I use GIMP and Darktable (or RawTherapee) which are very much equivalent, but it rules out interchange of ideas on precise post-processing techniques with most of my fellow club members and of course makes complex procedures used by well-known proponents such as Irene Froy much more of a challenge to reproduce.

Can you show us a selection of your photographs each with a short explanatory paragraph ; what inspired you to take the photograph or process it in the way you have?

OK, these are not necessarily my best, but they are a representative sample of what I have been doing and each one means something to me personally.

Let’s start with one I took a good few years ago. It is a stitched panorama and shows the lowly Canon 350D could take decent pictures, even in poor light. This was the second attempt at the shot; the first was taken two years earlier. Back then the monorail used to run across Pyrmont Bridge and the vibration from it made my photo slightly fuzzy, which I didn’t notice until I got back home. The monorail had sadly (though fortunately for photographers) been dismantled when I repeated the exercise and I was lucky to catch the cloud exactly right. The result was good enough to be part of my LRPS panel.

Darling Harbour at Dusk

The second is also from my LRPS panel but I have included it as an example of what to me was an evocative landscape reminding me of a fabulous summer walk in the French Alps. This was taken on the Nikon D700 with the 28-300mm lens.

Mountain Refuge

Most of the events I do are for schools, so for obvious reasons I cannot show them more widely. However, here’s one taken at the Rugby Rotary Clubs’ Spring Fair last year (Nikon D750, 28-300mm). It greatly amused me and appealed as a challenge to find an appropriate title.

“Listen Up Girls, Here’s the Escape Plan”

Street photography takes a bit more nerve than I generally possess, but on a recent trip to Birmingham I did pluck up some courage and took these two shots (Nikon D750, 28-300). It’s hard to be unobtrusive when wielding a full-frame DSLR, but on the plus side, that zoom range is a great asset. The girl with the crisp packet was asked whether she would mind if I photographed her and was totally brilliant. When I had finished and thanked her she said “Just as well, this is my last crisp.” – hence the title. I thought monochrome worked best, but her blue streaked hair was very attractive!

The Last Crisp

The second street photograph speaks for itself, but I did put it in for a competition and the judge totally missed the fact all the characters were holding phones.

“Did he just text you?”

Since joining the Visual Arts group of the RPS I have been experimenting more widely. The next couple of photos are Marmite jobs – love them or hate them. Both were taken with the Nikon D750 and 28-300mm lens. “The last bloom” was shot in a field right at the end of the sunflower season. I tried to evoke the idea of the last remaining sunflower defying the odds and the competing flora to make a last stand.

The Last Bloom

“Angel Place” is in Sydney, Australia and is the location for a number of wacky street exhibitions. This one, consisting of empty birdcages strung across the narrow alley was so popular it has become semi-permanent. There was no way to avoid the fierce sun and dark shadows from the tall buildings on either side so I cropped out a section and turned it into a negative, to make the bright building walls dark and the cages stand out.

Angel Place

How do you see your photography developing in the future?

Nice pun but it’s a difficult question. Mike Parmee always made the point that joining a photographic society would make anyone a better photographer and I feel I have indeed made a degree of progress. I need to continue with that progress and hopefully find myself a genre or style to make my own without being too prescriptive. I have a long way to go in post processing techniques and so far I have used only a small fraction of the capabilities of the software. I don’t think there is any danger of getting bored just yet.

Equipment-wise, I may well move to mirrorless one day as these cameras have come a very long way in the last few years. However, as long as I can still carry the weight I will continue to enjoy using my trusty Nikon and its versatile lenses.

Thanks Robin for sharing this and giving us the background to some of your great photographs.

Congratulations on the LRPS distinction.

As for ‘developing’ photography jokes, I always Leica good pun, even if Sony for a laugh!